The Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderna. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1965 I had missed seeing the Vatican because I refused to stand in line three hours. So we took the Metro across the Tiber River to the stop near the Vatican and noticed that the trains in Rome are completely covered-every square inch-in graffiti-so much so that Bob thought that the local government had commissioned it! Not!
After 23 years of Catholic education for Bob and 16 for me, we approached the Vatican in complete ignorance-we knew next to nothing about the Vatican or the Pope-probably says something about being Catholic…or Polish. The Polish never did like being told what to do-and neither did Bob’s ancestors-German immigrants to the Ukraine.
We learned that the Vatican occupies 108 and one half acres within the confines of Rome. It is a separate city with it’s own postal service and does a brisk business selling its postcards and stamps that must be mailed in their own mailboxes. Seeing this made it hard to picture the Catholic church that once wheeled and dealed as the mightiest power in Europe.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Cupula
St. Peter’s is called planning for the “long term. Planning for the short term is Oregon’s Governor Barbara Roberts being given a hard time because she wants to put a nice rug and some cherry wood furniture in the Archives building! I said as much to a Canadian standing next to me at the top of the Cupula (the dome on the top of the basilica) after climbing 350 stairs and suffering claustrophobia from the slanted walls. I told my Canadian friend that I thought the world was trying to tell us that our values are in the wrong place. His answer brought me up short “Yes, we are so practical yet because we are such a young society. We are still developing and building. Other ancient societies have already had their chance to learn what is important in life.” So now, while we name buildings after politicians and businessmen, Rome names it’s airport after Leonardo da Vinci!
The confessional area was lined with priests hearing confessions in many languages. Bob tried to find out if it was customary to give an offering. I asked him if he was planning on going…he said he didn’t need it at which I shot him the big poof of air that the French taught me how to do.
Meanwhile, Bob was watching the sun coming in one of the windows high in the nave magically illuminating all of one particular statue-the one of St. Helen. He wondered aloud if St. Helen “had something to say” to him-probably, he said brightly, “to keep up the good work!”
Would take weeks or months to absorb everything in the Vatican museum and all the rooms of art (Bob was pretty energized by the modern religious art). In the half hour we were in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican monitors shushed us every 2-3 minutes which really raised Bob’s hackles! He said it reminded him of Sister Mary Barbara! But I said I thought the noise may be damaging to the art. Besides, I told him it shouldn’t be a circus in there. I just got a harumph in
Before taking the Metro back to the hotel we stopped at a small cafeteria run by three energetic young guys who served up pizza, rice stuffed tomatoes in a great pomodoro sauce with those tiny noodles and a veal dish with another kind of pomodoro sauce at our streetside table. Either we were very hungry or this was the best food in Italy!